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A short story by A. A. Milne

The Patriot

Title:     The Patriot
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

This is a true story. Unless you promise to believe me, it is not much good my going on ... You promise? Very well.

Years ago I bought a pianola. I went into the shop to buy a gramophone record, and I came out with a pianola--so golden-tongued was the manager. You would think that one could then retire into private life for a little, but it is only the beginning. There is the music-stool to be purchased, the library subscription, the tuner's fee (four visits a year, if you please), the cabinet for the rolls, the man to oil the pedals, the--However, one gets out of the shop at last. Nor do I regret my venture. It is common talk that my pianola was the chief thing about me which attracted Celia. "I _must_ marry a man with a pianola," she said ... and there was I ... and here, in fact, we are. My blessings, then, on the golden tongue of the manager.

Now there is something very charming in a proper modesty about one's attainments, but it is necessary that the attainments should be generally recognized first. It was admirable in Stephenson to have said (as I am sure he did), when they congratulated him on his first steam-engine, "Tut-tut, it's nothing"; but he could only say this so long as the others were in a position to offer the congratulations. In order to place you in that position I must let you know how extraordinarily well I played the pianola. I brought to my interpretation of different Ops an _elan_, a _verve_, a _je ne sais quoi_--and several other French words--which were the astonishment of all who listened to me. But chiefly I was famous for my playing of one piece: "The Charge of the Uhlans," by Karl Bohm. Others may have seen Venice by moonlight, or heard the Vicar's daughter recite "Little Jim," but the favoured few who have been present when Bohm and I were collaborating are the ones who have really lived. Indeed, even the coldest professional critic would have spoken of it as "a noteworthy rendition."

"The Charge of the Uhlans." If you came to see me, you had to hear it. As arranged for the pianola, it was marked to be played throughout at a lightning pace and with the loudest pedal on. So one would play it if one wished to annoy the man in the flat below; but a true musician has, I take it, a higher aim. I disregarded the "FF.'s" and the other sign-posts on the way, and gave it my own interpretation. As played by me, "The Charge of the Uhlans" became a whole battle scene. Indeed, it was necessary, before I began, that I should turn to my audience and describe the scene to them--in the manner, but not in the words, of a Queen's Hall programme:--

"Er--first of all you hear the cavalry galloping past, and then there's a short hymn before action while they form up, and then conies the charge, and then there's a slow bit while they--er--pick up the wounded, and then they trot slowly back again. And if you listen carefully to the last bit you'll actually hear the horses limping."

Something like that I would say; and it might happen that an insufferable guest (who never got asked again) would object that the hymn part was unusual in real warfare.

"They sang it in this piece, anyhow," I would say stiffly, and turn my back on him and begin.

But the war put a stop to music, as to many other things. For years the pianola was not played by either of us. We had other things to do. And in our case, curiously enough, absence from the pianola did not make the heart grow fonder. On the contrary, we seemed to lose our taste for music, and when at last we were restored to our pianola, we found that we had grown out of it.

"It's very ugly," announced Celia.

"We can't help our looks," I said in my grandmother's voice.

"A book-case would be much prettier there."

"But not so tuneful."

"A pianola isn't tuneful if you never play it."

"True," I said.

Celia then became very alluring, and suggested that I might find somebody who would like to be lent a delightful pianola by somebody whose "I put in 'The Charge of the Uhlans,'" I said, "and it played 'God Save the King.'"

Unfortunately he was a very patriotic man, and he believed it. So that is how the story is now going about. But you who read this know the real truth of the matter.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: The Patriot